Yucatán is a state full of color, and it shows; for example, on our very traditional garments. The Yucatecan Hipiles are perfect to fight the heat, as they are light and fresh. They’re ideal to use this time of the year, and all year round. For decades, Hipiles have been one of the most comfortable, elegant, and versatile garments for women of all ages and contexts. Plus, they are known for their striking embroidery, which can be made with different techniques, depending on the item’s intended use and final price. Here is a list of the most common types of embroidery used in Yucatán and how to identify them.
1) Computerized embroidery
It’s made automatically. For this technique, the embroidery pattern is designed on a computer and then uploaded onto an industrial embroidery machine that is responsible for reproducing the image on the fabric.
This technique allows for lower-cost Hipiles, but one of its defining characteristics is the rigidness of the final piece of embroidery. For industrial embroidery machines to work properly, the fabric needs to be lined with non-woven polypropylene, a material that makes the embroidery feel stiff.
2) Machine embroidery
In Yucatán, the use of modified old treadle sewing machines to create freehand “drawings” on the fabric is known as “machine embroidery.” This is possibly the most popular embroidery technique in the state: it’s still made artisanally, but it’s much faster (compared to hand embroidery), and the final product is thin and light (unlike computerized embroidery).
To identify whether a garment was machine-embroidered, look for long stitches and a similar pattern on both sides of the textile. This technique is also widely used for Hipil blouses, a modern, shorter version of our beloved traditional dress.
There are several hand-embroidery techniques, but today we’ll talk about Xok Bi Chuuy, or “counted thread” in Maya. Also known as cross-stitch, in this technique pairs of diagonal stitches cross each other in the middle to form an X. According to “World Textiles: A Visual Guide to Traditional Techniques,” written by historian John Gillow and the artist Bryan Sentence, Xok Bi Chuuy is one of the oldest techniques in the world, having its origin in Europe and Asia. Yucatecas have turned cross-stitch into Yucatán’s most iconic stitch, using it to adorn the chest and the bottom of the most intricate Hipiles.
A way to know if a garment was embroidered by hand is by feeling it: it should be soft and light. In addition, cross-stitch should feature small crosses visible on the front, but only lines on the back.
Is important to mention that handmade Hipiles can be highly expensive. As we shared in our article “El Hipil: Typical Garment Worn by Mestizas,” the traditional dress of Yucatecan women is the Terno. That’s what we call the combination of a Hipil with a Jubón (a square flap embroidered with floral motifs, worn over the Hipil) and a Fustán (a long embroidered skirt that goes under the Hipil). If all the pieces are made with natural materials and are hand-embroidered, a 100% Yucatecan look can cost more than $16,000 pesos.
Remember: no technique is better than the other. They’re simply different options and techniques that can create Hipiles as diverse as the Yucatecan culture. When looking at and shopping for traditional clothing, make sure that the price of the garment is coherent with its quality, and wear with pride the creations of México’s southeast.
By Carlos Argüelles
Fashion designer and cultural agent. Lover of art, history, coffee, and Yucatecan gastronomy.
Photography by Carlos Argüelles for its use in Yucatán Today.
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